Book review: The Complete Beer Course

The Complete Beer Course by Joshua M Bernstein has an ambitious target: “Boot camp for beer geeks: from novice to expert in twelve tasting classes”.

I felt a lot of skepticism at this claim. I have read many other books with similar aims and have usually been let down in a morass of half truths and regurgitated myths. Could this be the book to break this chain of fail?

The chapter structure immediately made me feel that I was onto something better. It starts with a chapter on basic knowledge – what is beer made of? What’s its history? how did we get here? How is beer made? This was a very good starting point, but they way Bernstein lays out the information was even better. He assumes you have no knowledge, but he also assumes you have a brain – the information is presented plainly, without flowery language, but without patronising the reader.

The following chapters take you through a journey amongst the beer styles. This is also a tripping up point for other books, due to the authors not taking account of the palate impact of the beers they write about.

What do I mean by “palate impact”? Well, I will relate here something that has been said to me many times before – “dark beers are too strong for me, I prefer lower alcohol”. There is a false expectation at the heart of that comment – that the colour of the beer has anything to do with its ABV. There are many factors that play into ABV, flavour, body, and mouthfeel, and all of these play into the palate impact. Basically, a light industrial lager will leave you unmoved, while a bourbon barrel aged barleywine will wipe out your sense of taste!

The beer chapters are arranged according, broadly, to palate impact. He starts with lagered beers, while explaining that “lager” doesn’t mean “fizzy yellow canoe beer”, moves through wheat, pale coloured beers, Trappist, dark, winter warmers, barrel aged, and finishes with a triumphantly sour flourish. Pretty much the perfect order – after a couple of sour beers, your palate is shot for anything less than another sour, and you are skirting dangerous reflux territory with too many sours! (Don’t ask how I know that…!)

This book is well worth a read for anyone, whether craft beer novice or certified beer nerd. It is a well written book, an easy read, and even I picked up some new stuff I didn’t know before. It deserves a place in your library.


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